Russia: Editor sentenced to pre-trial detention

***UPDATE: According to our information, Nikolai Andrushchenko has still not yet been officially charged. He was due for release on 21 March 2008, but instead his preliminary detention period was reportedly extended by another two months.***

English PEN protests the two month pre-trial detention of Nikolai Andrushchenko, co-founder and editor of the Russian newspaper Novy Peterburg. PEN believes that the detention of Andrushchenko is a violation of Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Russia is a signatory.

On 23 November 2007 police officers raided the newsroom of Novy Peterburg in St. Petersburg. They copied files from computers, claiming that Andrushchenko was suspected of defaming officials in two articles unrelated to the other charges currently pending against him. According to local press reports, officers of the St. Petersburg’s Directorate for Combating Organized Crime raided Andrushchenko’s house and arrested him on the same day.

Following his arrest, Andrushchenko was sentenced to two months of pre-trial detention on charges of defamation and obstruction of justice on 24 November 2007. If convicted, the journalist could face up to six years in prison. According to officials, the charges are a result of his coverage of a murder investigation and trial in St. Petersburg in 2006. However, according to PEN’s information, the reporter’s colleagues believe that his persecution and imprisonment were the result of Novy Peterburg‘s critical coverage of local authorities and its pro-opposition articles in the run-up to the country’s parliamentary elections on 2 December 2007.

English PEN is deeply concerned by the imprisonment of Andrushchenko on charges from last year and believes that the Russian authorities are aiming to stifle opposition voices before the parliamentary vote. 

Local authorities have repeatedly harassed Andrushchenko, 64, and his colleagues. Andrushchenko was beaten by unidentified attackers on his way home on 9 November 2007. On 15 November 2007 the print run of Novy Peterburg, which contained articles about an upcoming dissenters’ march and critical articles about St. Petersburg’s head of police, was anonymously bought out and the newspaper’s distributor refused to allow any remaining copies to appear on news stands. One week later the biggest local publishing house, Gazetny Kompleks, refused to print the newspaper and another publishing house refused to print an edition which included a front page article by opposition leader Garry Kasparov.
Andruschchenko’s detention is an example of the increasing use of the defamation law in Russia to repress criticism of public figures and powerful individuals. This is discussed in a report by Article 19 entitled ‘The Cost of Reputation: Defamation Law and Practice in Russia’. To read the report please click here

Please send appeals:

– Protesting the arrest and detention of Nikolai Andrushchenko;
– Highlighting that the charges against Nikolai Andrushchenko seem to be linked to his legitimate critical reporting of the authorities and that, if so, his arrest would be in direct denial of Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights that guarantees the right to freedom of expression and to which the Russian Federation is a signatory;
– Therefore calling for Nikolai Andrushchenko’s unconditional release.

Appeals to:
Mr Vladimir Vladmirovich Putin                   
President of the Russian Federation           
Fax: 7 095 206 5173 / 230 2408              
Mr Vladimir Ustinov
Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation
Rossiyskaya Federatsiya  103793
Moskva K-31, Ul. B. Dimitrovka, d 15a
Prokuratura Rossiyskoy Federatsii
Generalnomu prokuroru Ustinovu V
Russian Federation
Fax: 7 095 292 88 48

It may be more effective, however, to send the above appeals via the Russian representative in London:

HE Mr Yury Viktorovich Fedotov
6/7 Kensington Palace Gardens
W8 4QP

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